|The ever important exit and entry stamps|
Back at the hotel, things got better. The high speed Internet was working and my Dad (a long time personal hero) initiated a cash infusion into my travel account just in case I had to stay for an additional week. The hotel staff continued to help me try and find the lost passport and offered me lunch. 5 different members of the staff at Fardoss Towers who had been so good to us the past week came up and offered kind words. Our local project manager and a contact at the Ministry of Culture met me at the hotel to facilitate the process of getting an exit stamp. After a strange visit to immigration/internal affairs (picture really dirty floor and walls, lots of guys sitting around in military uniforms, and a computer that looked like it was operating on the DOS system) we learned that we had missed the guy with the paper to take to the police station by 5 minutes or so when he left for the day at 3 pm. Yes, 3 pm.
Back at the hotel, the three of us got ready to tear apart the room and all my luggage one last time so that I could perhaps avoid staying in Syria for another four days or so since I really was needed in Lebanon. And, thank God, now 7.5 hours later, we found the original passport at the bottom of a bag that 4 people (myself, two colleagues and a hotel employee) had thoroughly checked and emptied out that morning. Knowing that the process of cancellation had been initiated for the passport, we immediately took off for the border taxi stand so I could make it across asap.
Our local project manager, jazz talent Amr Hammour-now another one of my personal heroes, made sure I got a good taxi and had enough in livres to make the border crossing. As we left, one of the daughters of the middle-aged woman also making the trip asked me to watch over her mom which I did my best to do. On the ride to Lebanon, totally exhausted at this point, my fellow passengers were so kind and not one complained about the extra 30 minutes it took for me to get the transit visa. They tried to feed and water me, in broken English kept asking if I was ok, and the Mom sincerely said as she got out "I will miss you." The European, Australian and Canadian members of a tour group that had witnessed the drama that morning were also at the border crossing and were extremely kind when they recognized me (although as my mother's daughter I was very embarrassed). All of these gestures are typical of the amazing kindness and hospitality that as a Southern girl I was brought up with and find prevalent far from home (as did Nemo) but see more rarely in the U.S. these days.
Standing in the customs line at Newark, I fully expected to be pulled out to do a full entry interview when I presented my emergency passport. And I was, but they were very courteous and Homeland Security processed the emergency passport, commended me for reporting it lost so quickly so that it couldn't be used for terrorism, and then sent me on my way in less than 10 minutes. Again, I am sure the note that all my travel was U.S. Embassy sponsored helped.
|Threshold from the Covered Souq to the Old City|
So Syria, I will be back, hopefully for YES Academy 2011; better prepared for emergencies and with a new passport ready to be stamped because Damascus is a beautiful, ancient city full of life that I only scratched the surface of. Despite the drama of that day, I recommend it as a place truly worthy of visiting for at least a week; just don't lose your passport!